Treasure-Trove of Roman Arms from a 'Lost City'
AVAILABLE ON REQUEST: EMAIL HR15@LE.AC.UK
A University of Leicester archaeologist
is about to publish a book revealing discoveries from an ancient city in Syria
which provide a unique insight into the lives - and violent deaths - of Roman
soldiers on the eastern limits of the empire.
The location of the ancient city of
Dura-Europos was forgotten until 1920, when Indian troops rediscovered it. In
digging trenches, they accidentally revealed wall-paintings, one naming the city
and showing its Roman garrison on parade.
The city, which overlooks the River
Euphrates near the Iraqi border, was extensively excavated between the world
wars, producing spectacular finds such as a painted synagogue and early
Christian chapel, which led to its being dubbed the ‘Pompeii of the Syrian
Not the least of the finds were
astonishingly well-preserved arms and armour belonging to the Roman garrison,
which was besieged by the Persians around AD 256. These included painted wooden
shields, complete horse-armours, and hundreds of other items. The Persians
destroyed the city, which was never fully reoccupied, helping to explain the
remarkable survival of the finds.
World War II interrupted publication of
the mass of discoveries from Dura, and it is only in recent years that detailed
work on the military equipment has been undertaken, by Simon James of the
University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History.
His new book, Excavations at Dura-Europos
1928-37, Final Report VII: The Arms and Armour, is hailed as: “the most
important single collection of arms, armour and other equipment to survive from
the Roman period”, and uncovers in text and illustrations a collection
exceptional for its size, diversity and state of preservation. Dura’s
assemblage of armour and weapons also offers a rare view of Rome’s forgotten
Dr Simon James, of the University of
Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History, explained:
“Dura Europos is arguably the most important single find of Roman
armour ever made, uncovering weapons and items of military dress deposited at
the site during a siege.
“We know a lot about Roman military
activities in Western Europe, but much less about their armies in the East of
the Empire, so this site is most important as an insight on Rome’s activities
in the East.”
The volume features a series of highly
detailed reconstruction paintings of the equipment and appearance of the Roman
soldiers of Dura-Europos. Dr James, who is an expert on Roman military
archaeology continued: “I have
been an illustrator, so painting the reconstructions helped me work out how the
equipment was put together. It became
part of the research process.
“You can tell a great deal through
their dress about how Roman soldiers expressed their identity, and even how they
moved and sounded. For instance, military
belts included two pendants, which made a characteristic noise as the soldiers
walked. So, added to the noise made by
their hobnail boots, you could always recognise the sound of an approaching
Excavations at Dura-Europos conducted by Yale University and the French Academy
of Inscriptions and Letters 1928 to 1937, Final Report VII: The Arms and Armour,
and Other Military Equipment”, by Dr Simon James, published by the British
Museum Press, £95, (ISBN 0-7141-2248-3) will be launched at the British Museum
Press, 46 Bloomsbury St London, WC1, on Thursday, May 20 at 6pm.
The University of Leicester School of
Archaeology and Ancient History is one of the largest and most prestigious in
the country, supporting internationally acclaimed research projects, which won
the School top marks (Grade 5) in the most recent government Research Assessment
Exercise. Roman history and industrial
archaeology are among its most renowned research areas.
NOTE TO EDITORS:
is available from Dr Simon James, School of Archaeology and Ancient History,
University of Leicester, tel 0116 252 2535, email stj3@Leicester.ac.uk.
for the jpeg image: A reconstruction of the appearance of a Roman armoured
cavalryman (cataphract) of the third century AD, based on archaeological
evidence from Dura-Europos, Syria. Painted by Simon James. (c) S James, 2003.
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.